We are astounded--maybe appalled?--to discover that our suite is huge: two bedrooms plus a large sitting room and a big superfluous kitchen and a voluminous hall, at the far end of which are little-boy-size doors that open onto the dumbwaiter, from whence room-service breakfast arrives. This might be the greatest thing the children have ever seen. "This," Alex says, "is our best hotel. Right, Daddy?" A Danish friend in Luxembourg, who's also in London this weekend, suggested we'd enjoy her favored hotel in Sloane Street, and she'd call and get us a good rate, and so here we are, enjoying our huge suite on a good rate.

It is a weekday; Madeline is working. So the boys and I walk around the corner to pristine, elegant Cadogan Square, with its matched-set facades of red brick presiding over the leafy park. We take quiet residential streets and poke down their serene mews to look at their neat little houses, more matched sets. We pass the painfully chic furnishing shops in Walton Street, and the tight clusters of inviting-looking restaurants that span the standard world-capital repertoire: the spare sushi temples, the cozy French cafes, the hyper-modern contemporary Italian trattorias. We emerge onto the broad panorama of Cromwell Road with the Victoria & Albert spread out on the right, and the Natural History Museum in front of the Science Museum on the left. We were at Science yesterday; this morning, the boys and I see the dinosaur fossils and stuffed birds of Natural History, not terribly different from the New York version.

After lunch we take the Tube to Notting Hill Gate, near the northwest corner of Kensington Gardens, to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, which is anchored around a pirate ship, just like the central playground in Luxembourg. It is cool and windy and damp, occasionally drizzling; the cappuccino from the in-park cafe doesn't succeed in warming me up. We return Underground to Oxford Circus, then fight our way down Regent Street to Hamley's. Six stories of toys. Filled with salespeople whose job it is to demonstrate toys. One of them gets down onto the floor with Sam and Alex and an intimidating Star Wars vehicle. He explains that it's his JOB to play with toys ALL DAY. The boys are awed. Alex admits to me that he's afraid such a job would be too hard for him. "Because I'd want to take breaks," he explains, "so I could watch TV."

Then it's pouring. We dodge the damp pedestrian traffic and the terrifying vehicular traffic--too fast, and always coming from the wrong direction--down to Piccadilly Circus, for the subway back to Sloane Square and a huge-suite respite. Then at dusk we set out through the leafy streets of Chelsea. Each block varies the theme of restrained upscalery, modestly proportioned, in contrast to the immodest mansions on the other side of the hotel, in Belgravia. Everything in this city seems to come in matched sets. The Chelsea one looks like an idealized version of middle-class living, requiring upper-class income.

It is lightly drizzling now, maybe misting (do the English have dozens of words for rain, like Eskimos do for snow?) and streetlamps are lit, and half the vehicles seem to be taxis; it looks and feels very London to me. When we come out of Whiteheads Grove onto the semi-commercial Cale Street, I spot what I hope is our restaurant. There's a type of light--warm, glowing, soft--that seeps through the large windows of restaurants that I want to be in, and that's what's coming from the plate glass across the street. An attractive foursome of not-too-well-dressed people is hurrying in, out of the damp, the door held by a smiling hostess. Yes, I see the sign, this is Tom's Kitchen. Yes, I can see already, this is a place I want to be. Subway-tile walls, and tables that are slabs of warm wood, and soft linens, and that amber lighting, and a limitless number of staff who seem to be bringing things to us. And they're all speaking English.

This is my first visit to London. It surprises my friends, especially those from London, that I've never before been here. When I lived in New York (I say that as if it was brief and long ago, don't I? It was 40 years, until last), it didn't seem worth the effort and expense and expenditure of vacation days to cross the Atlantic just to visit another expensive cosmopolitan city where everyone spoke English and rode the subway, and it was cold half the year. I already had that. I wanted French, or a wintertime beach, or whatever--I wanted different.

Now, though? Now, I live different. Now, I want exactly what I didn't want from New York. I want a subway ride from one bustling neighborhood to another. I want crowded streets filled with conversations I can easily eavesdrop. I want chic shops with no communication barriers. I want Chinatown and hail-able taxis and a whiff--just a faint one, please--of street crime. I want the confidence that comes from knowing exactly what to expect, even though I've never seen it before. What I want is a different version of New York.

I love London.


year 2

The maître d' from Bacchus is standing in the rue du Marché aux Herbes, a half-block away, smoking a cigarette. "Bonsoir!" he calls, waving. "Bonsoir!" I yell back, and continue walking Charlie Brown around the palace (which the boys and I finally have the chance to tour; the pic here is from the palace's yard). In the Place Guillaume market, the woman who sells the roast chickens asks if I've had a good summer; she says it's been too quiet in the mornings, too busy at noon. At the coffee store, as the machine grinds the beans, the counter-girl hands me some candies. "Pour les enfants," she explains, even though those children are not with me.

Sam and Alex have started a new school: we were not even on European soil for 48 hours when we dropped them off at their first day at the International School of Luxembourg; they are unfazed. There are familiar faces, of both the child and the grown-up variety, including some who defected from St. George's to ISL. There are also familiar faces at the other places I go: at the supermarkets and bakeries and butchers; on the shopping street of the Grand Rue and in the cafés of our own little rue de l'Eau; at the Just Move centre de fitness and at the Kockelscheuer tennis courts, where I shake the hands of not one or two but four different Swedish tennis coaches. I never imagined that one day I'd have such a broad acquaintance among Luxembourg-resident Swedish tennis coaches.

I need a haircut, and I know I must get to Coiffure Fred by mid-morning, before the appointment-only lunchtime hours. For good ricotta, I walk over to Galli y Galli, in the rue Beaumont, where I'm prepared for my interaction to involve pseudo-talking in French, Italian, and English. The boys learned to ride two-wheelers this summer, and the long, safe, flat bike path that we now need is going to be found in Bertrange, in a completely sign-less park that we'll access by walking through the parking lot of a small apartment building. None of these are things that I knew a year ago.

The car has come down with a minor ailment: the directional signals don't work. I'm never going to be someone who's comfortable at garages--I barely know where to put the gas--and the 100 percent absence of English chez le garagiste isn't exactly an enticement. (Plus, the guy who works the customer-service desk might want to pick up the thread of our previous conversation: how everything in Luxembourg is better than everything in the United States.) But I know roughly how to say what I need to say, and I've done this before. I've done most of it before. Because I live here.

a sub-recipe: sauce orange

It was 1983 or 1984 when I went on a dinner-and-a-movie date that involved duck à l'orange. The movie may have been that year's Woody Allen, or something along the lines of Terms of Endearment; I'm pretty sure we went to the Baronet and Coronet, though it could have been another of the big theaters that used to be clustered on Third Avenue, near Bloomingdale's. The French restaurant was on Lexington. When we left, it was snowing.

I remember this a quarter-century later because roast duck with orange sauce is a special-occasion dish, just as special as going on a date to a French restaurant when you're fifteen. Roasting a duck isn't something I want to do on a Wednesday night; actually, I'm fine with roasting the thing, but what I really don't want is any responsibility for the ensuing Superfund-worthy mess. Making orange sauce, however, is. In the past year, I've bought at least three dozen rotisserie chickens from the Wednesday-and-Saturday market in the Place Guillaume; it's a sort-of home-cooked meal that I don't have to actually cook. Though these chickens are delicious--especially the large poulets fermiers--even a great roast chicken can become boring. Enter orange sauce. For chicken. On a Wednesday night. It takes 5 minutes.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cider or sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or, in a pinch, triple sec)
1/4 cup orange preserves
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup chicken or veal stock, or 1 tablespoon demi-glace dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallot, and sauté until golden. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the honey, vinegar, liqueur, preserves, juice, and stock. Raise the heat to high, bring to a simmer, and cook until reduced to a thick syrup, which will take a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, and stir in the remaining butter. Voilà!

I use the sauce thusly: I buy a rotisserie chicken. I preheat the broiler, cut up the chicken, put it in a roasting pan skin-side up, and brush it with the sauce. I broil it until the skin begins to blister and the sauce to burn just a little bit, then I flip it, slather on more sauce, and broil again until just before it burns. Remove it from the oven, brush on more sauce, and serve.